By Jamie McEwan
Picking winners in a sport like Canoe Slalom is a fool’s game, best played by outsiders. (Or Outside Magazine-who, in 1996, said that the chances Scott Shipley not winning were less than a hundred-to-one...he finished 12th).
But, it’s also a fun game. So with not just the risk, but also the certainty of foolishness-let’s play. Here's the story behind the odds in London this year:
1. Etienne Daille, France
2. Peter Kauzer, Slovenia
3. Daniel Molmenti, Italy
US hope: Scott Parsons
Etienne Daille made his first French team this year, and there were rumblings over the fact that the cut-and-dried French selections had chosen a newcomer over proven medal-winners like Fabien Lefievre, third at last year’s worlds. Daille has gone on to have an absolutely spectacular spring, winning two World Cup races and placing second in the other. No more rumblings. Can he hold up to the Olympic pressure? I’m guessing yes. Interesting fact: he is the son of Jerome Daille, a C-2 competitor from the 80’s and 90’s whom I raced against, and Michaela (Buddeusova) Daille, a former Czechoslovakian team member and the sister of Renata Buddeusova-Altman. Renata now lives in DC area, married to US racer Jonathan Altman.
Peter Kauzer, the Slovenian, current (and two-time) World Champion, is the obvious choice, and he’ll be hard to beat for sure. But the pressure of being favored is so very tough….
Daniele Molmenti, the sometimes jokingly arrogant, but always charming Italian, is probably the most exciting, most explosive paddler on the water.
Also keep an eye out for: Benjamin Boukpeti, who was given a last-minute wildcard from the ICF to defend his Bronze medal at Beijing. The Czech paddler Vavrinec Hradilek. The German, Hannes Aigner. And … well, it’s a crowded field.
American Scott Parsons is a good bet for the final, which in Men’s Kayak would put him only a couple of seconds from the podium. A little luck, and … yes, it could easily happen.
1. Tony Estanguet, France
2. David Florence, Great Britain
3. Sideris Tasiadis, Germany
US hope: Casey Eichfeld
This class is the hardest to pick. No heavy favorites. The Frenchman Estanguet has an amazing Olympic record, but failed to make the top ten at the Worlds last year. In fact his selection for the French, over the current World Champion Gargaud-Chanut, came as a surprise. He’s gone on to have an excellent spring. In a confused field, he has to stand out.
David Florence, the 2008 Silver Medalist, will race on his home course. He's currently ranked number one in the World.
The German entry, Sideris Tasiadis, was born in Greece, and at one point had the option of racing for either country. He chose the tough German program. Young, talented--he has nothing to lose.
I am deliberately, provocatively, leaving Michel Martikan off the short list. Martikan, the Slovakian whose Olympic and World Championship record is even a touch better than Estanguet’s, faltered at last year’s Worlds, and has not had a good spring. But I’d hardly count him out.
American Casey Eichfeld made his first international final this spring, and my guess is that he’ll do it again. Top five would be awfully nice. Better is entirely possible.
1. Maialen Chourraut, Spain
2. Jana Dukatova, Slovakia
3. Corinna Kuhnle, Austria
US hope: Caroline Queen
The Spaniard Chourraut, third at last year’s Worlds, has won two World Cup races this spring. I was very impressed with her run at Cardiff, in which she was simultaneously hard driving and relaxed.
Admittedly, there is no real reason to pick her over Dukatova, from Slovakia, who at about five inches taller has a very different, “fast-floater” style, but is equally exciting to watch.
The current World Champion, the Austrian Kuhle, has the raw speed to put it out of reach if she can keep her power on-line. These three stand out enough, that this class is probably my only hope to correctly choose two of the top three.
The young Jessica Fox of Australia is always a threat, and always worth watching. She's the daughter of two legendary racers, Richard Fox and Myriam Fox-Jerulsami.
American Caroline Queen has never made an international final, but certainly has a shot at it in London, I think.
1. Hochschorner/Hochschorner, Slovakia
2. Volf/Stepanek, Czechoslovakia
3. Hounslow/Florence, Great Britain
US hope: Eric Hurd/Jeff Larimer
The Hochschorner brothers, the three-time consecutive Olympic Champions from Slovakia and current World Champions, are the most obvious medal pick of all the classes. But in the dodgy slalom world, does that put their chances as high as fifty percent? Perhaps not. Still, no one would bet against them.
I like the Czechs Volf and Stepanek partly out of sentimental reasons, since their old-fashioned style is most similar to the way we paddled back in 1992, my last serious year of competition. In my defense, Volf/Stepanek have won two Olympic medals, and they beat the Hochschorners in the European championships this spring. Pavel Hochschorner was pissed enough to criticize the judging.
The British team of Hounslow and Florence will have a slight home course advantage-plus, when the C-2 finals roll around, they will each already have a London Olympic final under his belt. In what is probably the most impressive week of racing this season, they won their individual classes in the British Trials--Hounslow had to stay ahead of 2004 Olympic medalist Campbell Walsh--and simultaneously won the doubles spot. Can Florence win two medals at the same Olympics? It would be epic.
Admittedly, however, the Slovenians Taljat/Bozic have been coming on strong this year. They might prove a safer bet.
Americans Hurd and Larimer, like Casey Eichfeld, made their first International final this spring. I’m guessing they’ll repeat that at the Olympics; they’re on the improvement curve. Beyond that … it’s so hard to say. Sure. Do it!